Hundreds march in Sarnia's downtown for  Black Lives Matter rally June 13, 2020 ( photo by Dave Dentinger)Hundreds march in Sarnia's downtown for Black Lives Matter rally June 13, 2020 ( photo by Dave Dentinger)

Social services network makes commitment to equity, anti-racism

Nearly three-dozen local organizations believe the impacts racism and colonialism have had on Indigenous and racialized people is a public health crisis.

The Social Services Network of Sarnia-Lambton (SSNSL), a group of 35 organizations, released an anti-racism statement and commitment earlier this year.

"We have a strong responsibility and desire to be actively disrupting and dismantling the white and colonial power structures that enable and support systemic racism," read the statement. "We are committed to equity and being anti-racist."

Spokesperson Andrew Bolter, the Executive Director of Community Legal Assistance Sarnia, said that there is systemic inequality in our society.

"Even though individually as White people we do not necessarily think we act in racist ways, but we live in a privileged system that came out of imperialism and colonialism, and some of our systemic structures in our society are the problem," he said. "I'm just recognizing myself now on my own journey that there is kind of a blindness we have as White people to what the racialized experience is in our society and our culture."

Bolter explained that the terms like "actively dismantle" have been part of the lexicon of anti-racism work for decades.

"And I think they're are a bit shocking when you read them -- 'dismantling' -- it's very threatening to people who have not really thought about this very deeply."

Bolter said one example of a White colonial power structure that enables and supports systemic racism is the legal system.

"Narrowing down into the Indian Act, for instance, which was basically a colonial tool to control Indigenous folks. There are other systems in place, like the educational system, the health system -- we have to look at each system," said Bolter. "Why do we see more racialized people struggling with health, struggling with homelessness, struggling with poverty, doing less well in the education system? There's got to be a reason for that, and I think we know what it is, it's just how do we do the changes that are necessary."

Bolter said there isn't a one-size-fits-all for how we treat people of different races and cultures.

He said equality is a goal, but that you can't have equality in a system that is unequal.

"And race is more than just categorizing people by the colour of their skin. Martin Luther King was very interested in changing the system and the system we're raising our children in, and the way we educate ourselves -- what perspective is being presented and are all voices at that table?"

Bolter said the SSNSL board should reflect more of the community.

"We as leaders in the Social Service Network decided we have to start with ourselves because when we looked around the table, we were predominantly White -- there was maybe one person who would define themselves as non-White."

Bolter said if we have a system that's clearly not working for a large sector of our society, then we need to address that.

He added that it's about changing the way society operates.

"The goal would be that we don't even need to think about it, that equality is just automatic -- everybody has a house that they can live in and afford, everyone has access to work, everyone has access to healthcare, everyone is treated equally under the criminal justice system, by police."

Bolter said if people feel threatened by this, that's probably a good sign that we all need to learn and understand, and sometimes that's difficult.

He said the group absolutely believes White fragility is a problem.

"I think the immediate reaction, and I've experienced this myself as a White guy, is defensiveness. You say 'well wait a minute, I don't have a racist bone in my body,' I've heard, but when you do a deeper dive, you begin to realize that your world view as a White person is different because your experience is different -- it's privileged."

Bolter said they want the "tent to be bigger so that everyone can fit inside."

As part of the group's commitment to equity and being anti-racist, they're going to have staff partake in training. Members will also look at their policies and the way they operate and the way they can operate better as a system so that everyone gets caught in the net.

The group will report back to the public this month.

Social Services Network of Sarnia-Lambton makes commitment to equity, anti-racism. Social Services Network of Sarnia-Lambton makes commitment to equity, anti-racism.

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